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A Poor Man's Nuclear Deterrent: Assessing the Value of Radiological Weapons for State Actors Open Access

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The threat of weapons of mass destruction is an issue which remains at the forefront on national security. Nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons are all considered very dangerous by both state and non-state actors. Radiological weapons exist in that same category yet are not held in the same regard; the reason that is given is that these types of weapons are not the weapons of mass destruction that the other three are. Instead, radiological weapons are better considered weapons of mass disruption. Accordingly, in the academic and policy literature there has been very little perceived value associated with such weapons for use by state actors. However the historical focus on the military efficacy of radiological weapons has obscured the obvious truth that they may pose significant value for state actors.What this research shows is that the explosion of a radiological weapon could disrupt a target area in ways which could cripple the economy of an adversary state and promote widespread fear concerning exposure to radiation. Any such attack would not only necessitate large scale evacuation, but cleanup, decontamination, demolition, territory exclusion, and relocation. Moreover, the effects of such an attack would be unlikely to remain an isolated event as evacuated and displaced citizens spread across the nation carrying both fear and residual radiation. All of these factors would only be compounded by a state actor's ability to not only develop such weapons, but to manufacture them in such a composition that contemporary examples of such weapons grossly underestimate their impact. Accordingly, radiological weapons could hold great value for any state actor wishing to pursue their development and to threaten their use. Moreover, "while RDDs may not be well suited as "military weapons" in the classic sense, the use of RDDs could be powerfully coercive." In that sense, state actors could even acquire radiological weapons for their deterrent value.

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